Cuba condemns US cuts to embassy staff over ‘health attacks’

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the new director of US issues at the foreign ministry, said the decision was motivated by politics and had nothing to do with the safety of diplomats. (AP)
Updated 06 March 2018

Cuba condemns US cuts to embassy staff over ‘health attacks’

HAVANA: A senior Cuban official on Monday condemned Washington’s decision to make the withdrawal of 60 percent of the US Embassy staff permanent in response to mysterious ailments affecting American diplomats.
Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the new director of US issues at the foreign ministry, said the decision was motivated by politics and had nothing to do with the safety of diplomats.
He told reporters that the cuts would hurt consular services and make travel more difficult for ordinary citizens. He said it might also erode long-standing cooperation on migration.
The State Department made the cuts permanent last week. It initially scaled back staff in October in response to hearing loss and other ailments affecting at least 24 US citizens. US investigators have not determined a cause and Cuba denies any wrongdoing.
A State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, called the Cuban complaint “ridiculous.”
“Let’s remind Cuba: They are obligated under the Vienna Convention to protect our diplomats. It is very serious that 24 of our US government colleagues suffered health attacks, some with serious and ongoing symptoms. Secretary Tillerson had to protect his staff by limiting our work at the US Embassy in Havana to emergency services,” she said.
“While our investigation is ongoing, rather than find excuses, Cuba should focus on helping to locate who or what is responsible for the harm caused to American citizens,” Nauert added.


Taliban say prisoner swap promised by Kabul fails to happen

Updated 12 min 41 sec ago

Taliban say prisoner swap promised by Kabul fails to happen

  • The three Taliban prisoners included Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the fearsome Haqqani militant network
  • They were to be exchanged for American University of Afghanistan professors, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks

ISLAMABAD: Three Taliban prisoners who were to be freed in exchange for an American and an Australian national, both kidnapped in 2016, are still in custody in Bagram prison, north of the capital Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Friday.
The three Taliban prisoners did not show up at an exchange site that had been agreed upon with the US, though Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said they would be freed.
Mujahid had no explanation for the no-show.
The three Taliban prisoners included Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the fearsome Haqqani militant network. They were to be exchanged for American University of Afghanistan professors, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks.
Mujahid said the professors are still in Taliban custody.
In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, Ghani said the “conditional release” was a very hard decision to make.
Prisoner releases were a key point during peace talks between the US and Taliban last year. US President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks in September, following a spate of violent attacks in Kabul that killed more than a dozen people, including a US soldier.
The prisoner exchange was seen as a possible door to restarting the talks. US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has crisscrossed the region in recent weeks meeting with Washington’s NATO allies, as well as Russia, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
President Ghani has repeatedly demanded his government be included in talks with the Taliban, who have refused saying the Afghan government is an American puppet.
Ghani is now in the middle of a controversial contest for his job as president following Afghanistan’s Sept. 28 elections, which drew allegations of widespread misconduct and fraud.
Preliminary results were supposed to be released on Thursday, but have once again been postponed.
Ghani had hoped a big win in the presidential polls would solidify his political position, but the recount of ballots has been challenged by his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power in Afghanistan’s coalition government.
That government was cobbled together after the 2014 presidential elections, which were so deeply overwhelmed by allegations of fraud that the United States stepped in to broker a power sharing agreement between Abdullah and Ghani.